Wednesday, December 17, 2014
After the kitchen sink aesthetic of ‘Anita: Swedish Nymphet’, the unmitigated tedium of ‘Maid in Sweden’ and the “is it an exploitation movie or isn’t it” what-the-fuckery of ‘Exponerad’, finally we have a Christina Lindberg starrer that delivers the kind of good unclean fun that trash fans approach these kind of movies for in the first place. And how could it not? It’s called ‘Sex and mother-loving Fury’, y’all. Sex. And. Fury. Has there ever been a better title for an exploitation movie? Hell, it’s not just a title, it’s a statement of intent.
And then there’s the rest of its credentials: it was directed by Noribumi Suzuki (who made the controversial and thoroughly depraved ‘Star of David: Beauty Hunting’, a film that I can only describe as the ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ of sexploitation); it stars Reiko Ike, the authentic poster girl for the pinkie violence movement (random picks from her filmography: ‘Women’s Violent Classroom’, ‘Terrifying Girls’ High School: Animal Courage’, ‘The Lustful Shogun and His 21 Concubines’); and it features gambling, prostitution, political treachery, shoot-outs, sword-fights, whippings, flick-knife-wielding nuns, snow, blood and nudity.
Just taking those last three items as a baseline aesthetic, there’s a scene fairly early on where gambler and vengeful swordswoman Ocho Inoshika (Ike) witnesses a murder at a gambling den. Later, a team of assassins attempt to silence her at a bath-house. One of them gives himself away and Ocho blinds him with a well aimed flick of a playing card. Nasty things, paper cuts. She then grabs her swords as the others come piling after her and the ensuing five minutes of sword play spills out of the bath-house and into a snowy garden outside. Oh, did I mention that Ocho is naked throughout the entire altercation? That, ladies and gentlemen, is how Noribumi Suzuki rolls.
But anyway, what’s a nice(ish) girl like Ocho doing in a seedy gambling den in the first place? Well, in a short and bloody prologue set in the late 1880s, Ocho as a young girl is walking with her father, a detective investigating political corruption, when he’s jumped by three antagonists, repeatedly knifed and some key evidence taken from him. Their faces are hidden, and the only identifying marks are their tattoos: a deer, a boar and a butterfly respectively.
Twenty years later, Japan an expanding empire in the early years of a new century, Ocho is all grown and deadly with it. A pickpocket, a gambler, a stone-cold killer, she’s doggedly tracking down her father’s killers. It’s a mission that brings her into contact with anarchist Shunosuke (Tadashi Naruse) and Yuki (Rie Saotome), sister of the man murdered at the gambling den and to whom she made a promise, in his dying moments, to rescue Yuki from a life of sexual servitude to businessman Iwakura (Hiroshi Nawa). Iwakura is in cohorts with gang boss turned statesman Kurokawa (Yoshikazu Kawazu), a man with big and not necessarily legal plans for the new Japan.
Meanwhile British spy master Guinness (Mark Darling) – handler to the glamorous but conflicted agent provocateur Christina (Christina Lindberg) – races to uncover Kurokawa and Iwakura’s plans before Shunosuke succeeds in assassinating Kurokawa. Oh, and the reason Christina’s conflicted? She and Shunosuke used to be an item.
That, believe it or not, is a simplified synopsis. For an 88-minute flick that’s principally concerned with blood-letting and female nudity, ‘Sex and Fury’ is almost manically obsessed with its own complexity. Maybe Suzuki genuinely felt that he was making the pastel-coloured equivalent of a John le Carré espionage thriller (but with tits) and went all out to achieve a fully immersive investigation of the shifting sands of double cross and triple cross that can leave even the most seasoned and cynical of operatives confused as to where their loyalties lie and who they can finally trust. Or maybe the script was hammered out over a couple of nights during which industrial quantities of saki were consumed and, of the three credited writers, one wrote the espionage stuff, one wrote the fight scenes and the other got far too excited at the thought of all the naked ladies.
The middle third of ‘Sex and Fury’ dedicates itself to the first half of the title as the narrative’s pinball-like progress basically stops dead so that one bit of softcore nookie after another can languorously play out for the audience’s viewing pleasure, culminating in a ménage-a-trois between Christina, Iwakura and one of Iwakura’s geisha girls. By this point, you almost feel sorry for the guy who got stuck writing the plot.
Still, the plot and the softcore writhings prove a lot more effective than the fight scenes (‘Sex and Fury’ being ever so slightly let down by the fury), which are ludicrous even by the standards of the genre, and edited in such a way as to leave you wondering whether Suzuki was trying to be avant garde and failing miserably, or some poor editor found himself desperate to disguise the leading lady’s lack of facility with a sword.
Minor gripe, though. ‘Sex and Fury’ powers through a running time that stays exactly the right side of an hour and a half, cheerfully thumbing its nose at good taste and as blood erupts over all the place, nudity abounds and the closest any character comes to a happy ending is that their death scene is more iconic than their opponent’s death scene.
Mercifully for all involved, they are served by Motoya Washio’s glorious cinematography, a widescreen orgy of Technicolor extravagance. Granted, there are still plenty of pinkie violence titles I have yet to acquaint myself with, but I doubt the subgenre has anything to offer that’s more genuinely beautiful than this. Suzuki and Washio conjure some genuinely poetic imagery from the raw material of abject sleaze. Art cinema, eat yer heart out.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Well, not lazy. Not really. I’ve been preoccupied with other things. As the regular reader will know, I maintain a long-term relationship with this blog and occasionally cheat on it by writing poetry behind its back. Poetry’s a strange thing: I can go weeks without producing anything, to the point where I begin to doubt if I can even do it anymore, then poems spring to mind unbidden in a chaotic cluster, all demanding to be written. In the last week, I’ve written six new pieces and had a big push on submitting work.
But now I’m back and tomorrow will see the Christina Lindberg mini-season reach a belated conclusion with a certain pinkie violence classic, after which I’ll be counting down to the Christmas break with some of the most iconic appearances of blaxploitation’s most kick-ass heroine, then seeing out the year with a bruisingly cynical offering from Lucio Fulci.
There were more grubby, grimy, lewd and lecherous titles I had in mind for the Winter of Discontent, but – hey! – there’s always next year, right?
Tuesday, December 09, 2014
I’d had it on good authority that Gustav Wiklund’s ‘Exponerad’ (a.k.a. ‘Exposed’) was the ne plus ultra of Swedish erotica, though – looking back – no other reason was offered than the presence of Christina “is that a bazooka in your pocket or do you just have a functional libido” Lindberg.
Nor, to be perfectly honest, have I undertaken a rigorous enough study of Swedish erotica to offer an educated opinion*. So, for the purposes of this evening’s review, let’s assume that ‘Exponerad’ (a.k.a. ‘The Depraved’) is indeed the high point of the genre – the Beethoven’s 9th of the top shelf, the ‘Ring Das Niebelungen’ of the dirty mac brigade – and see how it measures up to its fearsomely priapic reputation.
In doing so – in fact, in discussing ‘Exponerad’ (a.k.a. ‘Diary of a Rape’) in any remotely worthwhile detail – it’s necessary that I hoist the jolly SPOILER ALERT.
You see, there’s two levels on which to read ‘Exponerad’ (that’s “read” as in “watch”, by the way; and that’s “watch” as in “feel ashamed of yourself”):
1. As a rites-of-passage genre in which an impressionable 17-year-old gets passed from dippy boyfriend to free-spirited couple to Svengali-esque manipulator who hosts sex parties, blackmails our heroine with nude photos and generally acts like a right nasty bastard who, once he’s got his claws into her, won’t let go …
… which is to say, for much of its running time, ‘Exponerad’ (I’m all out of alternative titles, by the way) is kind of like what ‘Lolita’ would have been if it had been written by a particularly filthy-minded Swede, the titular heroine was four years older, and Humbert Humbert was devoid of all his wit and wordplay and wore crap turtleneck sweaters;
2. As the incredibly boring story of a moony 17-year-old who, left alone while her parents go off on a long weekend, constructs an elaborate fantasy life in order to stave off the dullness. Albeit an elaborate fantasy life which involves being sexually objectified, blackmailed, pawed over by a total gimp of a boyfriend (Bjorn Adelly) and even-worsed-over by a stalker-ish older man (Heinz Hopf). Which, I’ve got to say, is nowhere near the sort of fantasy I’d construct if I had a few days to kill and nothing better to do with them. Actually I’d spend them surfing the net for downloads of these kind of movies and writing about them for the blog.
Subject of which, back to business. ‘Exponerad’ (a.k.a. ‘Fuck You, Dude Who Recommended This POS’) starts with Lena (Lindberg) arguing with the BF; he slaps her and she walks off sullenly. Walks to the outskirts of town where she hitches a lift from a middle-aged businessman who forces himself on her … then drops her off a few minutes later with a cheery smile. Each of these incidents is accompanied by a wash of faded white light across the screen (how can white be faded, you ask? it was a crappy print) at which point it occurred to me – I’d like to say suddenly, but actually I saw it coming like an ocean liner on a duck pond – that they existed purely in Lena’s imagination.
As the film went on, there was a lot more faded light washing across the screen.
While there are some films that play their ultimate “it was all in the protagonist’s head” card to devastating effect (entries on Fincher and Scorsese’s filmographies spring to mind) and leave the audience reeling, ‘Exponerad’ – which could have been a suitably sleazy study of a nymphet finding herself in above her head; ‘Exponerad’, which could have built towards a tense, nasty woman-in-peril finale; ‘Exponerad’, which could have been the jewel in the crown of its starlet’s limited CV – not only benefits in no discernible way from using this device but is actually a weaker film for it.
So, yeah. ‘Exponerad’. SPOILERS END. Ditto this review. With one caveat: to he who made the recommendation – there’s a bus leaving town in an hour; be under it.
*Expressions of disbelief and outright sarcasm may be logged in the comments section. That's what it's there for.
Friday, December 05, 2014
This is something I’ve mentioned during previous Winters of Discontent, but it bears repeating in light of this evening’s offering: the worst thing an exploitation movie can do – its cardinal sin – is to be boring.
Ladies and gentlemen, Dan Wolman’s ‘Maid in Sweden’.
Let’s quickly waltz through the film’s basic dynamic: cosseted small town girl Inga (Christina Lindberg) goes to spend the weekend in with her sister Greta (Monica Ekman) who has relocated to the big city and is living in sin with douchebag boyfriend Casten (Krister Ekman). Casten is initially resentful of Inga’s intrusion into his love-nest and decides to palm her off onto his artist friend Bjorn (Lief Naeslund). Subsequently, he begins to covet Inga only for his overtures to be discovered by Greta.
All of which sounds like it should occupy the first half hour or so, a curtain raiser to an examination of the bonds of sisterhood, male sexual rivalry impacting upon the bonds of friendship, and the temptations of the city at night weighed against the simpler existence of rural life. Not so. That synopsis, dear reader, is pretty much the life in its entirety.
And it’s dull.
How dull? Take the opening credits sequence: Inga journeys by train from the country to the city; there are vignettes of her parents reluctantly seeing her off, and Greta awaiting her arrived; there are endless shots of Lindberg staring out of a carriage window; there are interminable cuts to aerial shots of the train ploughing through the Swedish landscape. It’s as if, having hired a helicopter for the afternoon and filmed a train making its entire journey, they wanted to make sure every bit of that chunk of the budget was onscreen. The whole misbegotten sequence is scored to horrible folk music and clocks in at ten minutes. This in an 80 minute movie!
It doesn’t get much better once Inga arrives. There are endless scenes of Inga and Greta traipsing around urban locations; endless scenes of Casten being a twat; endless screeds of dialogue in the bland interior of Greta and Casten’s apartment. Occasionally, Inga peels off a skin tight jumper or dons a low cut number to remind us why Lindberg got the part.
The Inga/Bjorn thing doesn’t happen till halfway through the movie, when the latter inducts her into the pleasures of the flesh in the most ambivalent scene since Del Henney paid a call on Susan George in ‘Straw Dogs’; but whereas Peckinpah’s film deals in a psychologically coherent analysis of the human capacity for violence, Wolman’s is just plain trash. Whereas Peckinpah’s most notorious scene in ‘Straw Dogs’ has a genuine emotional dynamic at its centre, Wolman’s is just plain distasteful. And once he’s crossed this particular threshold, rather than the film being yanked out of its inertia, it just settles back into dullness again.
Made the same year as ‘Exponerad’ (a.k.a. ‘Exposed’) and only two years before ‘Anita’, ‘Sex and Fury’ and ‘Thriller – A Cruel Picture’, it’s as if the Christina Lindberg of those movies and the Christina Lindberg of this one are two different people. The damaged, vengeful icon of ‘Thriller’; the emotionally devastated nymphomaniac of ‘Anita’; the out-of-her-depth Lolita in ‘Exponerad’; the dangerous siren in ‘Sex and Fury’ – all of these were committed performances that prove Lindberg was more than just a pretty face and a figure that could make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window. In ‘Maid in Sweden’, she’s just an object. And that’s the film’s biggest disappointment.
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
I haven’t seen Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ – or ‘Nymph()maniac’ if you want to dabble in that oooh the middle of the title looks like a vagina nonsense that is really no cleverer than French Connection UK hanging signs saying “FCUK” outside there shops, and that frankly is not very clever at all – and the reason I haven’t seen Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ is that I can’t shake the feeling that it’s basically a remake of Torgny Wickman’s ‘Anita: Swedish Nymphet’ dragged out to four hours.
Wickman’s film clocks in at 95 minutes and it’s difficult to imagine any treatment of this subject matter being substantially longer. Difficult, and a little bit depressing.
There was something I wasn’t prepared for in approaching a film by the man who made ‘The Lustful Vicar’ and ‘Swedish Sex Games’ – a film, moreover, that has the phrase “Swedish nymphet” as its subtitle – and that was how fucking dour it was going to be. Aided by Hans Dittmer’s almost brutally utilitarian cinematography, Wickman presents a vision of urban Sweden that’s as loveless as any of the broken concrete UK landscapes that Ken Loach has given us, and about as far from the dreamy romanticism of, say, ‘Elvira Madigan’ as it’s possible to get without, oh I don’t know, inviting Lars von Trier to the party and assuring him the ratings board is nothing to worry about.
In other words, ‘Anita’ is a joyless, unsexy film. And when your leading lady is one of the most doe-eyed, seductive, voluptuous brunettes ever to have sashayed in front of a movie camera, making an unsexy film can only mean one of two things: (a) you absolutely meant to because you were taking a sober and serious-minded approach to the material, or (b) you were basically a shit director.
I repeat at this point that Torgny Wickman was the man behind ‘The Lustful Vicar’ and ‘Swedish Sex Games’. Oh, and ‘Love Play: That’s How We Do It’. And ‘Practice Makes Perfect’. Not to mention the supposed documentary ‘Language of Love’, i.e. the porno movie that Travis Bickle takes Betsy to see in ‘Taxi Driver’.
And yet … and yet …
I can’t shake the feeling that with ‘Anita’, Wickman wanted to make a serious film. The style is pure social realism. There’s no attempt to prettify anything. Even Anita’s brief sanctuary at a house communally shared by a group of orchestra members presents their lives in such a ‘kitchen sink’ fashion that it de-romanticizes the frequent recourse to classical music on the soundtrack during this section of the film. There’s a moment where Anita and the sympathetic Erik (Stellan Skarsgård – yes, that Stellan Skarsgård) take a walk through a field and past a lake while ‘Spring’ from Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ prances away on the soundtrack and it should be the biggest cliché you can imagine, but Dittmer leaches every bit of colour from the scene, leaves it flat and drab and gives you nowhere to hang the word “pastoral”.
Likewise the loosely assembled collection of scenes that make up the first third – scenes of Lindberg’s Anita approaching various men, being warned off by various girlfriends, suffering mockery as she trawls the streets, stoically dealing with being treated as a pariah at school, and wordlessly sitting through endless scoldings by her parents, who delight in pointing up all the ways her butter-wouldn’t-melt younger sister is so much better than her – are genuinely demoralizing to watch, and that’s before we factor in the variety of horrible examples of masculinity with whom she debases herself. And by God, Lindberg captures every nuance of her character’s self-loathing and abject loneliness.
On the other hand, the plot often drifts into silliness, particularly the late-in-the-game revelation of Erik as a student of psychology who takes it upon himself to psychoanalyse and determine a cure for Anita’s nymphomania, all the while falling in love with her. Had the character remained an earnest and slightly shy musician who takes an interest in her on a sympathetic level rather than becoming romantically entangled, the dynamic might have been less forced. The horribly contrived dialogues about the psychology of nymphomania might also have been reduced to something meaningful. As it is, most of Erik’s screeds exist of the level of “ooooh, aren’t we being the daring young early 70s things, having all these frank conversations about nymphomania, ooooh madam, let me set it again: nymphomania, nymphomania, nymphomania”. Ditto, the eventual Anita/Erik consummation is every kind of excruciating given the total lack of chemistry between the leads.
Two other scenes seem awkward and ill-suited to serious filmmaking: a striptease that Anita stages to provoke her parents (their non-response is simply unbelievable), and a lesbian scene that I’m guessing was shoehorned in because the producer turned up on set on day, cleared his throat, tapped Wickman on the shoulder and barked an instruction along the lines of “Hey buddy, I’m funding a sex movie here, now shoot some girl-girl stuff, pronto!”
Still, there’s a solemn and non-judgmental piece of work operating throughout about 60% of ‘Anita’ and it seldom feels like the exploitationer I took it for. The nudity is intermittent at best and there’s little actual sex. What there is won’t trouble the cold setting on your shower. It’s not an entertaining 95 minutes and I personally can’t imagine sitting through it again. Nor does its final analysis of nymphomania go much beyond Anita’s own description of the condition: more or less, “I feel worthless so I sleep with someone, and it helps for a while then I feel ashamed of myself so I do it again”. What the film does prove, however, is that while Lindberg’s B-movie legacy is founded mainly on her looks and the sheer notoriety of at least half of her filmography, she was more than capable of crafting a character onscreen and communicating that character’s inner feelings on an emotional and empathetic level.
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
Really! What kind of an exploitation movie fiend do I take myself for? Can it be that apart from ‘Thriller: A Cruel Picture’, reviewed as part of the inaugural Winter of Discontent season back in November 2010, I haven’t featured a damn thing on this blog that features Sweden’s premiere exploitation poster girl, Christina Lindberg?
Better get that little oversight sorted out, hadn’t I?
Join me from tomorrow when we’ll be looking at three of the Scandinavian siren’s most notorious appearances (four if I can track down a copy of ‘Exponerad’ in the next 72 hours*).
*And, no, before you ask, ordering the ‘Christina Lindberg Swedish Erotica Box Sex’ from Amazon is not an option.
Monday, December 01, 2014
Although I encourage comments and discussion on this blog, and despite the fact that I post some right dubious stuff during the Winter of Discontent, I will not countenance comments that consist of nothing but links to pornographic sites. Three consecutive posts were today targeted by this kind of thing, all posted by the same user. I’ve posted a polite request to this effect before; if it happens again, you’ll be reported to Blogger’s administrators.